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Let's start by saying that the film itself is a perfect reflection of the days we live in. A deep human drama with a tabloid sensibility. A tradition that's lasted over a thousand years shaken by a world who demands public spectacle. Humbleness or humiliation? Asks Queen Elizabeth to her Prime Minister. Talk Show audiences wouldn't know the difference and we are all, one way or another, talk show audiences. From Jerry Springer to Oprah Winfrey. How did it really feel like? We all want to know, we all want to see the sorrow, the confession or the denial on the catch of the day's face. Michael Sheen is a adorable, yes I think adorable is the right word, as Tony Blair, the labor link between the people and the monarchy. Helen McCrory as Mrs Blair is another standout. Just look at her walking backwards trying to to be true to royal protocol. I had to adjust to the fact that the Queen Mother was played by Sylvia Syms. Sylvia Syms! Queen Mom, a wonderful old battleship who's seen it all and fought her entire life for things to change so they could stay the same. It is however Helen Mirren, in a performance that could only be described as miraculous, that takes us body and soul through the painful ordeal of those seven days surrounding the death of Princess Diana, the "people's princess" a natural master in a world of tabloids and self humiliation disguised as humbleness. Helen Mirren gives us more than a glimpse into the hermetic heart of a living queen. Not a single false note, not a single cheap shot. A performance that is as poignant as it is entertaining. I was as besotted with Helen's Queen as her Labor Prime Minister was. I can't wait to meet her again.
I saw her Elizabeth I not so long ago and I was bowled over by her fearlessness, I was moved, transported, amused. Now, Elizabeth II, the living Queen. Helen Mirren accomplishes the impossible. She lets us know the Queen, her Queen, without passing judgment. Just being her. I found myself understanding her dilemma in human terms. Something that she had done so brilliantly with Elizabeth I, she humanized her or rather she allows us to find the human creature behind the iconic façade. The difficulty of not falling into a caricature or a simple impersonation may have seemed insurmountable but here she is. Perfect, real, extraordinary. Long Live Helen Mirren!
No matter who you are, what's your political stand, or your social status, if any. You won't to turn the page or look away from the TV set if there is a piece of news concerning the royals, the British Royals in particular. I think it's human nature so there is nothing we can do about it. That's why it's amazing to realize that the Queen didn't quite understand that and how powerful and moving her surrendering to the fact. I don't know how to describe Helen Mirren's portrayal but I'm tempted to say already (I only saw the film last night) that is among the best I've ever seen. Riveting, totally fulfilling. The illusion is complete and without mockery or mimicry Helen Mirren gives us a full picture of someone who only exists in our minds as a title and in a series of constantly repeating images - hats, smiles, hand waves and holiday greetings from a TV screen - Congratulations to everyone concerned. A total triumph.
On the 1st of September 1997, the world saw tragedy. In the turmoil
that followed, Princess Diana's death was blamed on the Media, the
driver, and an entire array of others, before the upset and ill-meant
malaise of the public was turned sneeringly to the Royal Family. In
this film, we get a glimpse of what life was like inside Buckingham
Palace, and whether The Queen (played here by Helen Mirren) was being
cold and uncaring, or, if she was the one who was suffering most of
Director Stephen Frears recreates one week in 1997 with intelligent, deft strokes. The presentation of Princess Diana is artfully done in news snippets and archive footage, which brilliantly demonstrates the high impact her being had on people. The design of The Queen's home and her surroundings are convincing without being overly showy, and the Alexandre Desplat score is by turns dark, sad, and grand, perfectly summarizing the mindset of those involved.
But the film belongs to Helen Mirren, who takes on of her most challenging roles and showing us that behind the Queen lay a person, and one with feelings. In her role as the reigning lady, she is the epitome of suppressed disappointment and hurt. The Queen chose not to make a parade of her feelings in response to Diana's death, and, though the nation hated her for it, we learn here that it is not because she did not care, but because she honestly thought it the right thing to do.
As a young and newly elected Tony Blair with big aspirations and an even bigger grin, Michael Sheen is freakishly good as the Prime Minister. His performance shows a likable side of the prime minister in his refusal to side with the public over the denouncement of The Queen for her actions, and his attempts to make The Queen limit the damage that she has made is the basis for a very insightful story.
Other delights in this film come in some high-brow one-liners and some other good performances, but the best thing about it is how it manages to make you think, and even empathise with a group of people that you never saw yourself giving a toss about. At under 100 minutes, The Queen is funny, pointed and highly intelligent, showing that, as always, there are two sides to every story.
A moment that may have felt like surrender to Elizabeth II is the most moving and powerful moment in a film filled with moving and powerful moments. Helen Mirren works a miracle with her characterization. When the Queen is forced by circumstances to address her people and mourn in public Diana's death, Helen Mirren doesn't forget that her character is a seasoned public speaker but not an actress. When she delivers her speech to her subjects, the real strength is in her commitment to her duty and not the meaning of her words. It is a chilling, masterful acting stroke. Stephen Frears uses the brilliantly structured script to reveal something that's always being in front of our eyes but we've never seen. The privacy of the most public people in the world. Michael Sheen is terrific as Blair and every piece of casting is truly inspired but it's Helen Mirren's film, oh yeah, one hundred per cent.
Stephen Frears' The Queen, written by Peter Morgan (co-author of The
Last King of Scotland) and starring Helen Mirren, is a glittering,
compelling, solemnly anxious news comedy about the week in late summer,
1997, when Tony Blair, fresh in office as new-Liberal Prime Minister,
"saved" the British royal family, or saved it from itself, when Lady Di
died in Paris. Partly the Queen, Prince Philip, and Prince Charles, all
in their own ways, loathed Diana for what she had done to them, which
the public, conditioned by the mass media to adore her, could not know
about. Partly the Queen wanted to shelter the boys, Diana's sons, from
the noise of publicity, which would only aggravate their grief. Partly,
and perhaps most of all, she was being the way she was raised, keeping
things to herself, maintaining the immemorial English stiff upper lip.
But also as Peter French has said about this film, the royal family
"are shown to be morally and socially blinkered." Tony Blair
reluctantly taught the Queen to see their absence of public response to
the death, her insistence at first that it was a "private, family
matte," was a disastrous policy that had to be reversed.
Diana had skillfully manipulated the media to form an image of herself combining Demi Moore and Mother Teresa. And she was still associated with the royal family, and appeared as wronged by them. You don't turn your back on that. You eat humble pie and play catch-up. But a monarch isn't tutored in such strategies.
No flag flew at half mast over Buckingham Palace, because that flagpole was used only for the royal flag, to show if anyone was home, and they were all at Balmoral, being private in their grief, avoiding publicity, and protecting the boys.
The Queen as seen here and imagined with enthusiasm by Morgan is not as witty as Alan Bennett's Queen, in her last on screen recreation, in A Question of Attribution (directed by John Schlesinger, 1992), nor does the estimable Ms. Mirren (who's nonetheless very fine) have the buoyancy of Prunella Scales in Schlesinger's film. But she is witheringly cold toward Tony Blair, all foolish smiles on his first official visit to the Palace. (Blair's played by Michael Sheen, who's experienced at this game.) As Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian, "Mirren's Queen meets him with the unreadable smile of a chess grandmaster, facing a nervous tyro. She begins by reminding him that she has worked with 10 prime ministers, beginning with Winston Churchill, 'sitting where you are now'. As put-downs go, that's like pulling a lever and watching a chandelier fall on your opponent's head." Fully recognizing the crucial importance of the British monarchy, this film is tartly reserved about both sides of the game. The royal family don't like "call me Tony." And Blair's wife Cherie is a bit ungainly in her blatantly anti-monarchy attitudes. But when Blair sees how Elizabeth's coldness and invisibility is angering the fans of Dady Di the media queen, the "People's Princess" -- alienating her own subjects en masse, he steps in and persuades them to leave Balmoral and look at the thousands of flowers for Di piled in front of the Palance with their humiliating notes; then deliver a "tribute" to Di on TV. The formal grandeur of the film inherent in its subject matter the Prime Minister and the royal family is offset by its ironies and by the intimacy of the tennis match that develops in communications back and forth by telephone.
This movie is ultimately kind to Blair and to the Queen. It makes us feel sorry for Elizabeth, whom Blair comes to defend (against some of his cockier associates, not to mention his wife) with ardor. In Peter Morgan's second imagined interview with Blair the Queen coolly observes that he confuses "humility" with "humiliation" (he hasn't seen the nasty notes on the bunches of flowers for Diana); and she sees his kindness as merely due to seeing that what has happened to her could happen to him as quickly. As for Blair, the Brits may have little use for him now, but the filmmakers acted out of the belief that this week when he averted disaster on behalf of the monarchy was his "finest hour." Frears has had a varied career, with high points second to few, concentrated in the decade of the Eighties after he came off doing a lot of television. These finest hours include My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Grifters. For a while there it looked like he could do anything, then more as if he would; but he's admirably willing to try new, as well as dirty, pretty, things, The Queen is dignified, but contemporary. It's bustling and grand. Loud music and vivid performances help. Mirren's Elizabeth is more of the Queen and less of the Queen than Prulella Scales' briefer performance. Bennett's Queen was very clever. Morgan's is sad and noble. The Queen, which is dignified, but contemporary, shows where the Brits are now, and the effect of Lady Di. QEII, like QEI and Victoria before her, has had an extraordinarily long and successful reign, half a century (obviously Mirren is younger than the actual Queen.) But with these events, with this crucial week, the days of her generation essentially ended.
There's a symbolic fourteen-point stag at Balmoral the men are interested in. James Cromwell's brusque, lordly Prince Philip will do nothing but take the boys hunting, to get them outside. In the end a corporate banker kills the stag on a neighbor's property, and only Elizabeth sees it, when she's stranded in a jeep she's driven into the mud, and crying.
For all its ceremony and noise, loneliness and wit, mostly The Queen simply tells a story, the new story of English royalty at the end of the twentieth century. It was a story worth telling, and it's told well.
I saw this film on September 25th, 2006 in Indianapolis. I am one of
the judges for the Heartland Film Festival's Truly Moving Picture
Award. A Truly Moving Picture "
explores the human journey by
artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of
life." Heartland gave that award to this film.
Normally I am careful not to give away the ending of a movie in a comment. In this case, the story and the ending are already known. In 1997, Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris trying to escape from the paparazzi. This was about a year after her divorce with Prince Charles. Great Britain and the world mourned her loss in a surprisingly large way. It was as if Princess Diana was an assassinated world political or spiritual leader.
The royal family did not initially react to her death in a human or sensitive way. They alternately said it was a private affair or Princess Diana was no longer royalty since the divorce or we are protecting Princess Diana's two sons or let us grieve alone. But, they were coming off as cold and standoffish to the English people and they were causing the monarchy system to become unpopular and even despised. In steps the new young Prime Minister, Tony Blair, influences Queen Elizabeth II to mourn in public and bring a humanity to the English monarchy.
The real story is the journey of Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II to get to this final destination.
It is hard to separate what is fact and what is made-up in this film. Many facts are certain because you see historical footage of the bunches of cut flowers growing in front of Buckingham Palace and the then President Clinton making a statement and many clips of Princess Diane throughout her life. But the many behind-the-scenes conversations had to be invented or recalled, so it has to be part fiction and part fact.
The monarchy is not treated kindly in this film. Prince Philip comes off as insensitive and a bearer of grudges. Prince Charles appears to be weak. Queen Elizabeth II, played brilliantly by Helen Mirren, comes off as reserved and complicated. And Tony Blair, played convincingly by Michael Sheen, trumps the royalty by being real and wise and likable.
The storytelling is compelling. Even though you know what will happen, you are intrigued by how the characters get to their ultimate positions.
In the end, Queen Elizabeth II and Tony Blair display a profound love for their country. It is really a story about public dignitaries trying to do the right thing for their country and their families.
FYI There is a Truly Moving Pictures web site where you can find a listing of past Crystal Heart Award winners as well as other Truly Moving Picture Award winners that are now either at the theater or available on video.
It was Meryl Streep no less to call Helen Mirren "an acting God" and she wasn't kidding. I saw "The Queen" again last night, a year after the hype, the awards and the masses of superlatives thrown Helen Mirren's way and you know what? It was all richly deserved. Her performance got an extra something along the year and I believe it will continue to grow like most wonderful true things. Helen Mirren is not an actress who "dissappears" behind a character , no, she is in total control and that's what makes her creation so moving. The illusion is fueled by her own conviction - the character's as well as the actress's. Last night I wondered, during the Queen and her Prime Minister's walk, how did the real Elizabeth II reacted to this portrait. I'm sure she's seen it and I'm sure that she must agree that nobody could have done it better or more fairly.
How silly of me. I kept putting off seeing this movie because I had an acute case of "Dianaetis" Too much about the doomed princess of the people. Well, I was wrong. I was very, very, wrong. The film is a surprising, unpretentious masterpiece and I haven't mention Helen Mirren yet. Apart from the fact that it's a film perfectly suited to be seen in your own living room or like me, in bed, it's also cinema with capital letters. The illusion created by Helen Mirren's portrayal is total and I mean total, eerily so. There were moments in which I was seeing the real thing or the "royal" thing I should say. When Elizabeth II bows to pressure and returns to London and views first hand the overwhelming show of affection for Diana, something happens to her, we will never know what exactly, but something. That in itself is Helen Mirren's mastery. To tell us exactly that without revealing anything. Needless to say I'm buying the DVD. I know I will see this one many times.
There is no way of knowing, of course, just how authentic is Peter
Morgan's very fine script for this account of what may or may not have
taken place in the household of HRH during the days, chiefly between
the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and her funeral, as it is
unlikely that those involved would have blurted out to Morgan what they
probably consider to be state secrets. No, Morgan's script is pure
conjecture, a fiction about real events lent a considerable degree of
seeming 'authenticity' by director Stephen Frears handling of the
material and use of documentary footage mainly taken from the
television programmes of the day. Should we condemn him, then, for
guessing what conversations may have occurred in private between the
Queen and her Prime Minister? Certainly not, anymore than we should
condemn James Goldman for being fanciful as to what may or may not have
occurred in the Court of Henry 11 and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
"The Queen", then, is not some purposeful account of the facts surrounding the death of Princess Diana as seen from the Royal, (and Prime Ministerial), perspective as a wonderfully human comedy hewn from a national and a private tragedy. And at it's heart, and what really makes it work, is a devastatingly accurate study, not simply of a Monarch we all feel we 'know' from endless television footage, but of a deeply private woman struggling to maintain her own personal dignity in the midst of immense public scrutiny, and Helen Mirren's performance is really quite extraordinary. She has the looks and the mannerisms off pat but more significantly she cuts to the quick of the private individual and unearths the human being inside the Queen. This is great acting which I have no doubt will be rewarded with every prize going come the year's end, (and anyone unfamiliar with Mirren's work who thinks, perhaps, that this is largely just a brilliant piece of mimicry should seek out her very different but equally brilliant performance on television as the present Queen's namesake Elizabeth 1).
The biggest glittering prize most likely to come Mirren's way is, of course, the Oscar and amid the ballyhoo surrounding her performance, Michael Sheen's brilliant turn as Tony Blair has been mostly overlooked. Sheen, too, gives an award-worthy turn as our present Prime Minister, again capturing, not just the look and the mannerisms, but also the arrogance that comes with youth and success and, more importantly, the humility that finally comes with understanding. Sheen gets closer to the 'real' Blair in those moments when he isn't saying anything at all.
Neither Alex Jennings nor James Cromwell look anything Princes Charles and Philip but they manage to capture the essence of the men. (Jennings is particularly good at getting that vacant look of Charles' that says to many people, 'Is there anyone at home?'). And there's a lovely, beautifully understated performance by Roger Allam as the Queen's Private Secretary.
Of course, it is almost as unlikely we will ever know what the people portrayed in the film think of it as it is we will ever know how close Mirren has come to 'getting it right' but I defy anyone to condemn the film on the grounds of either taste or accuracy. What matters isn't how real this film is, (it isn't a documentary, after all), but how closely those involved have come to capturing the hearts and minds of the people on the screen. Judged on this basis, "The Queen" is an unqualified triumph.
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